Dance: Review: Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker – Fase – Tate Modern Tanks


The spartan concrete basements of Tate Modern’s new Tanks are a somewhat fitting home this week to Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, a choreographer whose own works are often described as austere and functional. Early suite Fase, set to the similarly minimalist music of Steve Reich, is the first in a series of live performances to animate these hard grey spaces which the Tate’s directors hope will encourage audiences to rethink their relationship with art.

As well as bringing performance into a visual art space, Fase at the Tanks brings viewers into a much closer proximity with the work itself than is usually possible in a theatre setting. Few dancegoers can fail to be familiar with the influence and impact of de Keersmaeker’s work, and in particular with this early outing which has been performed so often both live and on film. The new setting makes visible tiny details, little moments in the choreography flattened by a proscenium arch or hidden by distance. It’s an absolute pleasure to encounter Fase up close – and one thing we learn is that it’s not so austere at all.

The space itself is hardly salubrious. An industrial concrete floor, lit with stark fluorescent strip lights and grey walls booming with echoes, it has little in common with even the fringiest of theatres and less still with a whitewashed gallery. Audiences filter in through the basement (daytime attendees should be warned: queues are long and entry is not guaranteed if the space fills to capacity) and seat themselves around the edge of a square performance area; Fase is ostensibly shown in the round, although some movements are rounder than others. The four sections (shown together as one work on two evenings and on the hour during the daytime) are danced by de Keersmaeker and Tale Dolven. Sit in the right place around the stage area and you might just get stepped over by the lady herself.

Of all the movements, the third – Violin Phase – is perhaps the most transformed by its shift from theatre to basement. On stage, the delicate traces of the dancer’s feet, a looping petal pattern that mirrors the circular construction of Reich’s rondo, are not always so obvious as they are here; and the little smiles of pleasure that cross de Keersmaeker’s face as she sweeps and scoops the air around her can go undetected. Here they’re a joy, bringing a sweetly girlish air to the piece. Now in her fifties, de Keersmaeker not only fails to look her age; she skips around her chalk circle like a girl of fifteen (from some far-distant time when girls of fifteen were playfully flirtatious rather than hyper-sexualised drinking machines).

The brutal concrete space takes on authoritarian overtones in the second movement, Come Out , in which the voice of civil rights activist Daniel Hamm is heard relating his treatment by police following a wrongful arrest for murder. As the tape of his voice, talking about letting the bruise blood out, loops again and again in an endless iteration of violent injustice, Dolven and de Keersmaeker’s intense and hard-edged jerks and slices likewise press relentlessly down onto the audience. Head grabs, shoved elbows and sudden rebounds play again and again as Hamm’s voice phases into an inhuman engine sound; both Reich’s music and de Keersmaeker’s choreography are highly suggestive without becoming overtly narrative.

The change of space has less impact on the mesmerising swings of Piano Phase , although perhaps the demanding simplicity of the movement material exposes the quality of performance even more than usual at such close quarters. Funky toe-hopping finale Clapping Music comes complete with its own clever manual pan from one side of the stage area to the other, revealing details of the movement from different angles wherever one sits. In all, the Tate Tanks make a surprisingly sympathetic place to get to know de Keersmaeker’s work afresh – and perhaps even attract some new fans.

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Dance: Review: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch – Palermo Palermo – Sadler’s Wells

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch 'Palermo Palermo' Photo: Jochen Viehoff

It opens with a collapse. A wall of concrete breeze-blocks the width of the entire stage topples backwards to land in a pile of grey rubble, the backdrop for the rest of the evening. The cast will later add further rubbish to the scene, casting plastic bottles, squeezed lemons, cigarette packets and endless matches to the floor as they parade over the debris. Brick dust will shower the stage from the rafters; gunshots and explosions will add to the sense of a warzone. Palermo Palermo (1989) couldn’t be less of a pretty tourist promotion for that city, the second in Pina Bausch’s World Cities catalogue; in fact I left Sadler’s vowing never to visit Sicily.

The scenography may be alarming, but the work itself is full of an infectious vibrancy and humour. Compared with the clean stages and lithe solos of later works, Palermo Palermo is full of constant action. Overlapping vignettes, bursts of music, moments of choral unison, people running, a dog….at times the result seems indistinguishable from chaos, but it’s chaos of a wildly enjoyable kind.

In stark contrast to many of the Bausch works in this season, the women are dressed (as usual by costume designer Marion Cito) in a kind of impoverished anti-glamour. Black sheath dresses costume the female cast for much of the first half; coupled with the endless clanging of a distant church bell, they remind us of the centrality of the Catholic church to life in Sicily. Later, women change into flimsy summer dresses or nylon nighties; there’s only one ball gown onstage in the first half, and it looks gaudily out of place. Palermo is no host for Bausch’s usual sartorial territory.

For Bausch’s thematic territory of desire, repression and nature versus culture, however, Palermo offers fertile breeding ground. An inverted woman standing on her hands at the back of the stage yells at Dominique Mercy for “looking ridiculous”. She continues her red-faced tirade as he picks his way meekly over the concrete to try to emulate her, receiving nothing but abuse for his troubles. Another woman stands in a hole in the concrete, begging her two lovers to touch her, hold her, kiss her, but hide her so that no-one may see. Nothing the hapless pair do is right. Everybody in Palermo seems to desperately want something, but nobody seems to be able to articulate what it is.

If Palermo Palermo wouldn’t be the tourist board’s first choice of promotional pitch for the city, it succeeds as an inadvertent advertisement-by-contrast for the communist spirit. Nobody is this town of few resources seems willing to share. People rob each other in the streets for cigarettes. A woman kicks a man viciously until he has handed over every last pack of the bacon that he is carrying, concealed, in his pockets and underwear; what she wants with all the bacon, we will never know. An older woman marches to the front of the stage and informs us that the pasta she is carrying is “my pasta, all mine!” She will not share it, she will not lend it, it is all for her. Later, Dominique Mercy will reappear on stage with the same pasta, silently breaking it piece by piece against his chest. As recent world events have shown, the instinct to hoard is never beneficial to anyone.

In the middle of all this madness, and gun-shooting, and women tossed around until they fall out of their clothes and men slicing flesh from their own arms to fry on a steam iron (viewers of a nervous disposition may want to avert their eyes for that bit), there is some absolutely stunning dance. Given the inevitable restrictions of a stage covered in rubble and rubbish, it’s amazing that the cast manage to move at all, but move they do – not the great looping arcs of Bamboo Blues , more a suite of fast-paced articulations and rapid-fire gestures, sometimes performed in overlapping solos and sometimes in group ensembles. Moments of clapping and energetic stomping suggest flamenco; alongside the Catholic church bells, there’s something of the gypsy spirit nestling here.

Lawless, colourful, saturated in action and barely rooted in sanity; it’s easy to see why Bausch obviously found Palermo so inspiring. Fantastic piece, but I think I’ll skip the city itself and stick with my safe view from the stalls.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch World Cities 2012 continues until 9 July at Sadler’s Wells Returned tickets only for Palermo Palermo on 2 July & _Wiesenland on 8 & 9 July

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